Russian Politics and Society

By Richard Sakwa | Go to book overview

5The executive

A constitution is the property of a nation, and not of those who exercise the government.

(Thomas Paine) 1

The dissolution of the Communist Party and the disintegration of the USSR created a power vacuum that was filled by a hegemonic presidency. The federal presidency in Russia sat at the head of a vast bureaucracy composed of dozens of agencies and thousands of administrators, although its reach in the regions (as we shall see in Part 3) was partial. A cabinet system coexists with a presidential one, with the constitution effectively making the president head of government. This is a bifurcated executive system: on the one hand, the president and his or her apparatus working from the Kremlin; and on the other, the prime minister and the government, based primarily in the White House (formerly the Supreme Soviet building) and Old Square (previously the headquarters of the Central Committee). The centre of political gravity returned to the Kremlin, which now adopted many of the institutions and functions of the Politburo of old. The presidency had its own security service, its own Security Council, administrative apparatus and much more. At the same time, out of the rubble of the Soviet regime many traditional features re-emerged, above all in the limited scope for the government itself. The Soviet administrative class only gradually took on the features of a modern civil service. The establishment of a powerful executive overshadowed not only the legislature but also the democratic gains that it claimed to advance.


The presidency

A presidential system emerged in the last Soviet years to compensate for the decline of the Communist Party, and later the presidential option looked increasingly attractive to overcome the crisis of reform in Russia. Under Yeltsin executive authority became relatively independent from the legislature, a trend given normative form by the 1993 constitution. Many functions of the old legislature, including some of its committees and commissions, were incorporated into the presidential system, providing yet another massive impetus to the inflation of the presidential apparatus. By the same token, some of the conflicts that had formerly taken place between the two institutions were now played out within the presidential system itself. No autonomy was granted to any particular leader or to the institution that they represented. The institutional aspects of this have been

-98-

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Russian Politics and Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures ix
  • Tables x
  • Preface to the Third Edition xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Note on Style, Spelling and Transliteration xiv
  • Glossary of Acronyms, Acrostics and Terms xv
  • Part I - The Fall of Communism and the Rebirth of Russia 1
  • 1: Soviet Communism and Its Dissolution 3
  • 2: The Disintegration of the Ussr 27
  • Part II - Political Institutions and Processes 43
  • 3: The New Constitutional Order 45
  • 4: Law and Society 72
  • 5: The Executive 98
  • 6: The Legislature 125
  • 7: Electoral Politics 140
  • 8: Party Development 172
  • Part III - Federalism, Regionalism and Nationalism 201
  • 9: Federalism and the State 203
  • 10: Regional and Local Politics 224
  • 11: National Identity and State-Building 254
  • Part IV - Economy and Society 277
  • 12: Marketising the Economy 279
  • 13: Society and Social Movements 305
  • 14: Cultural Transformation 331
  • Part V - Foreign Policies 347
  • 15: Foreign Policy 349
  • 16: Commonwealth, Community and Fragmentation 375
  • 17: Defence and Security Policy 396
  • Part VI - Dilemmas of Democratisation 423
  • 18: Problems of Transition 425
  • 19: Pluralism, Elites, Regime and Leadership 445
  • 20: Democracy in Russia 463
  • Notes 475
  • Select Bibliography 524
  • Index 527
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